Imagine yourself as a kid playing tag. Hundreds of images came flooding back after reading that sentence, right?
Take a 90 degree turn to avoid the outstretched hand of the "IT" person.
Now, think back to that one person that you could never touch or always touched you.
That's Houston Texans rookie wide receiver Tank Dell.
He has a ton of work to do to learn the NFL game and execute at a high level. However, it's been exciting to watch Tank work during OTAs this month and there's an increased energy to the offense when he's on the field. I can't wait to see him in live action at NRG Stadium.
One thing often said about Tank is his ability to get in and out of cuts explosively and effectively. Many people have asked me what that even means. How does that manifest itself on the field to help the QB, the passing game and the offense? Because many of you have been asking that, I thought I'd try to answer that question as best I could. As a result, the first thing that I thought about was the game tag.
In a game of Tag, someone's flat out speed is quite obvious and Tank's straight line speed is more than evident. However, like in Tag, the game of football isn't played solely in straight lines. So, the more separation that a Tag player can get as he/she changes direction, the more unlikely it is that he/she'll get tagged. That's what Tank does on all of his routes: he's trying to not get tagged, i.e, covered by the defensive back.
As such, when Tank wants to change direction, he's looking to increase that space between himself and the defensive back. One thing that Tank does so well is not having to slow down to make that cut in his route, like you or me would have to do in those situations. He can sprint to a point, plant and make a cut in any direction without having to excessively slow down to allow the defensive back to "tag" him. Furthermore, when he makes that cut, he explodes away from the defensive back that much further, creating even more separation. That separation that Tank creates allows more space for the QB to complete a pass to him in all areas of the field.
Like a player being chased in Tag, a receiver knows where he/she's going on a route, while the chaser, or defensive back, does not. Tank takes advantage of his linear speed to threaten the defensive back and his leverage, has the ability to stay at a high rate speed INTO the cut and then explodes OUT of the cut to create that much needed separation. Unlike Tank, though, there are some receivers that might have similar straight line speed but have to slow down to make the cut and, subsequently, don't explode out of the cut. Those receivers get tagged or get blanketed by defensive backs. No offense, but you and I are those receivers. We're getting tagged.
Tank Dell is not.
That's his game: getting in and out of cuts to create one inch, one foot or one yard of separation that other receivers can't. Some receivers don't need all that separation because they have great hands or are physical freaks who can just body everyone. Obviously, though, that's not Tank, who uses his change of direction asset to the maximum, getting in and out of his cuts explosively.
Here's hoping he doesn't get tagged much in 2023.